Appellate Clinic Student Victorious in Argument Before 8th Circuit

Third-year law student Matthew DiMeglio recently prevailed in a case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on behalf of a client who claims that he was retaliated against by jail officials.

DiMeglio is a participant in Washington University School of Law’s Appellate Clinic, which is among only a handful of programs nationally that provide law students with an opportunity to represent clients in the second-highest courts in the United States.

To prepare for the argument, DiMeglio worked closely with clinic alumni who wrote the briefs in the case, current clinic students, Professor Bruce La Pierre, who has argued numerous cases in the Federal Courts of Appeals and in the Supreme Court of the United States, and Adjunct Professor Brian Walsh of Bryan Cave LLP.

After immersing himself in the record and developing a strategy, DiMeglio underwent two practice arguments before panels that included law school faculty members, other students, and attorneys in private practice. His experience culminated with his standing before a panel of Eighth Circuit judges in the federal courthouse in St. Louis, arguing his case, and answering their questions.

DiMeglio says he considers arguing before the court to be the highlight of his law school experience. "Presenting an argument in front of the Eighth Circuit was a wonderful opportunity for me to gain practical litigation experience at an early stage in my legal career," he says. "Working with Professors La Pierre and Walsh, as well as other faculty, local attorneys, and clinic members in preparation for the argument, gave me the confidence I needed to appear before the court. It also taught me a tremendous amount about oral advocacy and litigation strategy. It was an amazing experience to be able to appear before such a distinguished panel."

La Pierre adds: "Matt did an excellent job presenting his client’s case to the court. He answered questions clearly and concisely and engaged the judges in a thoughtful discussion. As the judges have frequently told me, our students are exceptionally well-prepared, and they present arguments that would make a seasoned appellate advocate proud."

The case, Spencer v. Jackson County, involves a pretrial detainee, Randy Spencer, who was admitted to the "trustee" program in a county jail. This afforded him privileges and freedom not available to the general population. However, he was abruptly removed from the program when a jail official recalled that Spencer had filed a lawsuit against her after a previous jail stay. Spencer also alleges that other officials frustrated his efforts to file grievances challenging his removal from the trustee program.

Based on DiMeglio’s arguments and strong advocacy, the Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court had applied the wrong legal standard in granting summary judgment for the jail officials and that, under the proper standard, Spencer had established viable issues for trial.